NIKOLAI BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
TRUTH AND LIE
IN SOCIETAL LIFE
(1917 - #269)
During the final years before the Revolution we were smothered with lies. The provocation was made at the instigation of the Russian statecraft of the Old Regime. The atmosphere was thick with betrayal. Azephovism, Rasputinism, Sukhomlinovism -- all this poisoned the life of the people and rotted the Russian state. In the final months before the turnabout, the muddled air became intolerable, it was impossible to breathe, and everything became ambiguous. The image of the old powers became twofold. The Old Regime a long time already had lived by the lie. It continued to exist through inertia, and the passivity of the people sustained it. The moral disintegration had reached unprecedented dimensions. Amongst those active for the old power in the final period of its existence it was difficult to encounter people with a clear human image, such people comprised the exception and they did not long last. In the hours of the finish of the Russian tsarism, it was surrounded by the likes of Grigorii Rasputin, the Sukhomlinovi, the Shtiurmeri, the Protopovi, the Voeikovi, the Manusevichi-Manuilovi and suchlike, duplicitous and nebulous figures. The old Russian monarchy drowned in its muck, in its lies, in its wont for betrayal and provocations. It not so much was overthrown, as rather that it disintegrated and collapsed. The Russian Revolution was not so much the result of an accumulation of creative powers, of creative impulses towards new life, as rather the result of an accumulation of negative conditions, of processes of rot in the old life. This facilitated the triumph of the Revolution in its initial days and gave it a strong push in its ultimate course. The destructive powers seized the upper hand over the creative powers. The sickness seemed too far-gone, its consequences passed over into the new Russia, and they remain active, like an inner poison. The Revolution in its accomplishments of an elementary political freedom has come too late, and namely because in it there prevails a social maximalism, which always is the result of the unpreparedness of the masses, beset by darkness. The storm has abated, it was irreversible and was sent down by Providence. But the atmosphere has not cleared. For us it is no easier to breathe after the revolutionary storm, the air has not become clear and lucid, the muck remains, and as before there prevail ambiguous and duplicitous figures, though also in new guises, the lie as before reigns in our societal life, the wont for betrayal and provocation has not been removed, although Sukhomlinov and Shtiurmer sit in prison. The old people, entangled in lies and having lost their moral centre, appear in new attire and veil themselves behind new words. As before there are no people for truth, there is no acknowledgement of the self-sufficiency and absolute value of truth, something which cannot be sacrificed away for any sort of utilitarian and greedy aims, parties, classes or persons.
There are mouths, spouting hatred and contempt for Nicholas II, that formerly spoke about "the God-given monarch", about fidelity and service to the tsar. Much of this, that never was sacred, was transformed into a conditional lie, and the words had lost their real content. All the frightful part was in this, that long ago already the "God" aspect being honoured was not God, but rather "Caesar", and this transgressing of a basic commandment, this fashioning for oneself idols of every sort upon the earth, this idolatry has poisoned the life of the Russian people. But here the old idol of autocracy has been cast down and trampled in the dirt. Just as always happens, the crowd, shortly before worshipping it, now tramples it underfoot. But after the casting down of the old idols, have we become free of all idolatry, from everywhere honouring as God the Kingdom of Caesar? No, we have not become free of such. There have arisen new idols, which have been set up higher than the truth of God. The idol-worship, which always is a betrayal of the Living God, has remained, it has but assumed new forms. There has begun a new fashioning of idols, there has appeared many a new idol and earthly little-gods, -- "Revolution", "Socialism", "Democracy", "Internationalism", "Proletariat" etc. All these idols and little-gods belong the same to the kingdom of "Caesar", just as did the old idol of the tsar's autocracy, and upon them are bestown godly honours. The realm of Caesar in a Christian, Gospel sense of the word is not some sort of perpetual autocracy, monarchy, connected unfailingly with tsar or emperor, it is broader and more varied, and to it also can belong a democratic realm. Around the worship of new idols in the Kingdom of Caesar there has already well accumulated many a lie and murkiness. The new idolatry, just like the old, screens out the sunlight of truth. Never does the idol-worship proceed along gratis for the moral nature of man and the people, it morally cripples and maims by way of the lie. Man, in worshipping something on earth in place of God, already ceases distinguishing truth from falsehood, he is rendered obsessed, he -- becomes a slave of temporal relative things, in the name of which everything becomes permissible.
Revolution is but a moment within the life of a people, a temporary function, a passing and transitory condition, through which it can pass over to an higher and free life, but always sickly and onerous, evoked by the piling up of the old evil. When some whatever the man lances a festering boil, then it would be terrible to acknowledge this as something most luminous and divine in the man, and to substitute replacing the man himself with this moment in the developement of the process of sickness within him. But with us namely this is the process occurring in relation to the Revolution, which is but the opening up of a festering boil on the body of Russia. The transforming of the Revolution itself into a god and bestowing upon it the honouring of a god is a repulsive idol-worship, a forgetting of the true God. This is no better, than to worship Caesar as an idol, it is of the same nature. Russia previously replaced dynasties, which led it to make sacrifices; now Russia has it replaced by the revolution, which likewise will cause it to make sacrifices. If the "God-given monarchy" is transformed into a repulsive and ugly lie, than in suchlike a lie it can be transformed into a "God-given revolution", if it does not become subject to an higher truth. Truth however stands higher than all the changes into the Kingdom of Caesar, in it [i.e. truth] there is nothing ambiguous, wavering and variable, it is lodged by God Himself within the human heart, and its discernment is a foremost task and most accurate path to a new and free life. Idolatry always precipitates down into the realm of lies and enslaves one. And we are already situated in a quite terrible slavery of lies. An innumerable quantity of lies has poisoned the awareness of the people, the heart of the simple people in the dark, those little ones, and dimmed their minds. Formerly, before the Revolution the people were poisoned by one lie, now they are poisoned by another lie. Demagoguery is a lie, elevated into a principle, into a guiding principle of life. The demagogue considers every lie appropriate to the attaining of his goals, for enticing the masses. All the revolutionary-socialistic phraseology of our day is being transformed all more and more into a conditional lie, similar to the lie from that phraseology, upon which rested the Old Regime. Those, who hide themselves behind the veils of lofty words about the sanctity of the Fatherland, the state and the Church, too often in fact have betrayed the Fatherland, undermined the state and surrendered the Church into the grip of the dark powers. And thus do many of those deal with the Divine value of freedom, veiling themselves under the new revolutionary phraseology. The real significance and the real weight of words is lost, since behind these words stand the human souls of scoundrels.
"Dark and irresponsible influences" the same thus begin to govern the revolution, just as they had governed the old ruling powers. Betrayal, provocation and cruel greed thus veil themselves the same behind loud slogans of "Internationalism", "Revolutionary Socialism" etc., just as earlier they had been veiled behind loud slogans of "Monarchism", "True-Russian Patriotism" etc. Bolshevism has too much in common with Rasputinism and the Black Hundreds. The Reds and the Blacks in the colours of the masses has ultimately gotten all jumbled together. Even prior to the Revolution one tended to hear from respected Social-Democrats, that in the midst of Bolshevism it was difficult to distinguish the revolutionaries from the provocateurs and traitors. The moral principle itself revolutionary maximalism is such, that it makes difficult any distinctions, since everything is declared permissible for revolutionary aims and truth is not considered essential. There coalesces an underground atmosphere, an apprehensive fear of light. In this atmosphere Azeph flourished. This atmosphere was always muddled with the security forces, with the departments of the police, with murky underground Court influences. This underground and ambiguous atmosphere did not disappear after the turnabout, it passed over into the new and free Russia, where thee ought not to be such a place for underground intrigues. The conveyers of this atmosphere were primarily Bolsheviks. The disclosures, which were made after 4 July about the German espionage, about the treason and betrayal among those, who called themselves internationalists and the solely true Bolshevik-Socialists, tend to have too much in common with what was revealed about Myasoedov and Sukhomlinov, and with what fell out surrounding the name Shtiurmer and the German party at Court. It reeked in spirit. We have not gotten free nor cleansed, we are all still in slavery to the dark powers, we are all still languishing in the underground. The Revolution has undergone a moral corruption, its idealistic elements have been squeezed out and fallen into slavery to dark ambiguous elements. The nihilism from the right and the nihilism from the left -- are of the selfsame nature.
In the name of "Revolution" now is permitted the same sort of lie, as earlier was permitted in the name of "Monarchy". The prestige of the idol is set higher than the truth, the simple and in its simplicity Divine truth. The Revolution has not freed us from the false guarding of the prestige of the prevailing powers, it demands the guarding of its own prestige foremost of all. And this provides the push onto the path of falsehood. The new, the free life will begin in Russia only then, when in the name of truth, set uppermost, there is the consent to sacrifice every prestige, every conditional lie, -- of the Revolution, just as with the Monarchy. Let reign the prestige of truth itself, which with all its powers ought to be revealed in the heart of the people, and let vanish every falsehood, all the conditional phraseology! It is time already to loudly declare, that the lie with its principle has poisoned the Russian freedom and plunged us into slavery. The Socialist parties with their maximalist bent have from their very start permitted the lie for the guarding of their own prestige, the prestige of the Revolution, since they worshipped not God but an idol. Many a lie and untruth has begun to hold sway in Russian life. All these demagogic cries about the "bourgeoise", "bourgeoisness" and "bourgeois", to which also have been enumerated all thinking and educated Russia, all these inquests into "bourgeois countre-revolution" from the very start have been an ugly lie. Beyond pushing off from the coasts and sailing the sea, the bourgeoise of the Russian peasant-kingdom do not in any genuine and precise sense of the word play any role amongst us. Such still faces a progressive developement. The real danger, countre-revolution, threatens exclusively from the side of the Bolsheviks and anarchists. Reasonable and respectable Socialists finally begin to perceive this, but they do not want to loudly talk about this out of fear of causing a loss of prestige for revolutionary socialism. There was an ugly lie in the assertion, that the war was being waged exclusively in the name of the grasping interests of an international bourgeoise, led by P. N. Miliukov. And this then, when it involved the matter of the elementary defense of the Fatherland and its honour. There was an ugly lie in the veiling over of desertion and quite greedy egoism with loud words about internationalism and the brotherhood of peoples. All this lie undermined the army and prepared for us an unheard of scandal of treason and flight from the field of conflict. An ugly lie -- was in the assertion, that the human mass as it were could exist and fulfill its duty without state, churchly or cultural discipline. The masses, having returned to the natural state, are transformed into disorderly mobs and in the final end into beastly hordes. It is an ugly lie to term as socialism the greedy and grasping interests of the elemental masses, not subject to any sort of a common and higher truth. An ugly lie is in the view, that the Petrograd events of 4 July have no direct connection with the Bolsheviks, and that the responsibility for this rests upon the emergence of some sort of countre-revolutionary elements and even upon the withdrawal of the Cadet ministers. It is an ugly lie that cries out, that the People's Freedom Party -- is bourgeois, that it defends the interests of the capitalists, and that in it is lodged the seeds of countre-revolution. Honestly and as regards the actual reality, this party can as it were be accused of a certain academism, an over-reliance upon external constitutional forms, a clumsiness in attracting to itself the broader masses, in evoking any passionate responses from them, and in insufficient strength and will. This -- is the party of a legislative idealism, the least greedy of our parties, clean of any demagoguery, but suffering with party bureaucratism. In its composition, the Cadet Party is the party of the utmost Intelligentsia of the land, of professors and Zemstvo members, while any "bourgeois" elements in the precise sense of the word play in it but an insignificant role. It is an ugly lie to confess the principles of democracy, to demand a Constituent Assembly, while deciding everything prior to the Constituent assembly and without out. The revolutionary Socialistic Democracy prior to the Constituent Assembly, i.e. without the will of the sovereign people, is deciding the form of governance, the agrarian question, regional autonomy and suchlike basic questions. But the truth consists in this, that for revolutionary socialism altogether unneeded are the principles of democracy and unneeded is the Constituent Assembly, since it represents a danger for any purely class party, because it subordinates every class to the will of the nation. And it is the Cadets namely that appear at present to be the most consistent democrats. There is the falsehood too in proclaiming maximal social slogans, the actual and real achievement of which there is no belief in, and which are proclaimed only for attracting the masses. There is an ugly lie in bowing down to the mass elements of the Revolution, to seek in it itself the criteria of truth and right and to term as countre-revolutionary every attempt to subordinate this mass element to criteria of truth and right, such as is independent of the capriciousness of the human masses. It is a lie -- to proclaim freedom and at every step to impede it. An heap of lies forms the murkiness in the revolutionary atmosphere. Only the truth, independent of rapid shifts by days and hours, and not dependent upon the inconstant instincts of the masses, can set us free. Politics has been poisoned by falsehood, with some -- for craven ends, and with others -- for ends more lofty, but still bereft of moral bases. All this leads to an awareness of the eternal truth, that the rebirth of a people cannot be exclusively external and material-social, that it has to be first of all an inward changing of the soul of a people, a victory within it of truth over the lie, of God over mere idols, with a spiritual restoration of the health of the human person. The voice of truth and a basic moral instinct compel one to admit, that in the present threatening hour what matters is the saving of our native-land, the saving of Russia, and not the Revolution, and that the governance of a national salvation can only be of such a government, in which are included representatives of all the groups, and all the parties, and not the party of a single class, which cannot hold the trust of the nation. The politics of a governance of national salvation can only be a politics of all the nation in common.
24 July 1917
© 2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1917 - 269 - en)
PRAVDA I LOZH' V OBSCHESTVENNOI ZHIZNI. Article originally published in the weekly Journal "Narodopravstvo", No. 4, p. 7-9.
Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of 1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, "Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii (Stat'i 1917-18)" ("Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)", Paris, 1990, p. 83-91.
Е-текст по-русский: Кротова .
Return to Berdyaev Online Library .